Two weeks ago the New York Times published a disgraceful article in which Supreme Court correspondent Adam Liptak uses misdirection and innuentdo to suggest, not only that Clarence Thomas is too lazy or stupid to do his job properly, but that he is a plagarist as well!
Justice Clarence Thomas has not asked a question from the Supreme Court bench since 2006. His majority opinions tend to be brisk, efficient and dutiful.
Now, studies using linguistic software have discovered another Thomas trait: Those opinions contain language from briefs submitted to the court at unusually high rates.
Next to these opening paragraphs is a photo of Thomas with a caption that reads:
A recent analysis found that his majority opinions had the highest rate of overlaps with language in legal briefs submitted to the court in the last decade.
Back in the article Liptak goes on to say:
Justice Thomas's seven majority opinions in the last term were on average just 12 pages long and contained little but a summary of the facts and terse summaries of the relevant statutes and precedents. Since opinions are signed by justices but often drafted by law clerks, it may be that any borrowed language was the work of Justice Thomas's clerks.
And, just in case the reader misses the implication, he adds:
When Justice Thomas announces his majority opinions from the bench, he sometimes seems to be reading from materials prepared by others.
The pretext for this hatchet job is an obscure paper by a political science student named Adam Feldman, who, according to Liptak, used "anti-plagiarism software to detect similar wording in briefs and opinions from 1946 to 2014" and found that:
Justice Thomas's majority opinions had the highest rate of overlaps with language in parties' briefs in the decade since Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. joined the court.
Liptak bolsters this with two other statistical studies, one of which found that, "Thomas's majority opinions incorporated language from friend-of-the-court briefs ... more than any other justice," and another that "looked at overlaps with lower-court opinions [and found that] Justice Thomas's rate was the highest."
By the time they've read all that, most readers are bound to conclude that, rather than doing his job, Thomas has been cribbing others' work, or, even worse, letting his unsupervised law clerks to do it for him. However, it's not the facts that lead readers to those conclusions; it's Liptak's deceitful use of language.